HIIT or high intensity interval training is becoming the “cardio”choice of the instagram generation. While it has some time saving benefits it means that low level/ low intensity work has gone out the window. Here’s why you should consider not condensing all our workouts down to a series of 30 second smash ups.
There are a number of benefits of lower intensity work- better cardiovascular function, better sleep quality and a reduction of stress to start with.
But first let me frame a “back story” to give a sense of perspective. I recently started training someone who is time poor. Their workouts NEEDED to be efficient. Efficiency in itself does not always mean you cram “more” in to a session, in fact it should mean the quality of what you do goes up…. as opposed to doing more varied stuff badly. In itself the client needed to be re-educated that there is more to exercise then destroying yourself. Indeed no pain/ no gain really should mean no pain/ no pain but plenty of gain if training is appropriately measured (I guess that doesn’t really roll of the tongue does it).
There is a belief that HIIT work is a cure all for every goal.
Play sport- perform HIIT, get skinny- HIIT is what you need. Even to the point where I have even heard a story of someone trying to run a marathon of the back of purely high intensity work (it was their first marathon- it was not a great success).
Smart exercise programmes tend to cover all bases. If you have certain demands for a sport then certain work will be more relevant to you. For general fitness clientele there is no “best.”
What do we see though from a training perspective and what are the misnomers about steady state cardio?
Well the first thing you have to understand is that all exercise stresses a different energy system. They don’t compete with each other though to do the work. They are stressed at different levels providing different physiological adaptations. It’s not a competition to do more harder all the time.
Steady state work improves the efficiency of your heart allowing the heart to pump more blood, in turn it can help lower your heart rate and act to in effect relax your nervous system destressing the body. Throwing high intensity on to someone who is stressed and tired may have the opposite effect of chilling them out and leave them more “amped up.”
Beginners also tend to fly straight into HIIT work with programmes like “Insanity.” These type of programmes are a bit like destroying yourself so you start doing everything really badly, and then carry on destroying yourself like you hate yourself.
If you have heard of self help books this is the opposite…. but at least you get a T-Shirt at the end of it.
It’s not measured, it’s not balanced but it’s hard… and obviously hard is better, no pain/ no gain after all. Dropping back though and doing some steady work though can help your recovery, indeed it will ultimately help you recover better from your high intensity work.
In itself though HIIT work is useful but it doesn’t need to be used at every freaking session. In my experience trainers are scared of not being the “toughest.” A client of mine (you know who you are) often goads me by saying “trainer b’s session was really hard the other day compared to yours.”My response is that “Do you want to do 2 sets of 10 repetitions well, or one set of 20 rows with patchy form for half of them.”
Quality counts as it’s about efficiency right!
Where though is HIIT useful?
- If your only goal is fat loss then HIIT work will help. That said though to start beginners on lots of HIIT work is unprofessional. We actually got a new client at the gym this week because her previous trainer kept on destroying her to the point of pain. As a professional you should be able to explain to a client about the different benefits of certain exercise and why they probably should go down a certain path programme wise. That said if you are time poor it can be programmed accordingly but not for an hour. 20minuts for the average gym goer should be enough.
- HIIT helps develop the aerobic system. This means you get some of the fringe benefits of aerobic work. That said in most people I will suggest 1 to 6 steady state sessions a week and maybe 2-4 HIIT sessions depending upon availability, goals and demands.
Developing a good aerobic base is a bit like building the footings on a pyramid. The bigger the base the larger the pyramid and this explains your adaptations when working at a higher level. If you find yourself getting gassed when performing short intense bouts it may be a good indicator that your recovery is hampered by having a poor aerobic system.
In a practical sense I keep an eye on my clients training by performing a repeated sprint test (the rowing machine works brilliantly for this). If you can maintain consistently strong pace on your work interval with a 1 to 1 work: rest ratio with no drop of in form(we have used distances of 250m, 500, and 100m for this) then your aerobic base is allowing you to recover so your focus should be on top end/ power development. If your intensity falls away quickly and does not recover at all then your aerobic base may need a bit of work. This isn’t as sciencey as you can get but it’s a simple test to allow someone to see where there training may need a bit of attention while getting a training effect.
Energy system development in the glycolytic system from high intensity works returns occur will occur in the first 6 weeks. After this period of adaptation it’s prudent to look at maximal power and lower level aerobic work for improvements.
So there it is- a primer on why some low level work can help your HIIT work and your overall results.